Following the elections in October, the new government of Kosovo is still not formed and the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue remains frozen. We talked about the immediate challenges and future prospects for Kosovo with the new Standing Rapporteur of the European Parliament for the country, Viola von Cramon-Taubadel (Greens/EFA) who also headed the EU Election Observation Mission in October.
European Western Balkans: Many felt optimistic about Kosovo’s near future following the elections in October, but the winners have taken a very long time to form a government. What effect does this have on the EU-aspiring citizens of Kosovo?
Viola von Cramon-Tabudel: The politicians now have a huge responsibility, they need to form a coalition in one way or another, right after the elections everyone expected a government to be formed very quickly, of course, citizens are frustrated, because nothing has happened for such a long time. People will lose hope, if the politicians do not agree soon.
EWB: Do you think that the new government will abolish 100% tariffs and resume EU-mediated dialogue with Serbia?
VCT: I hope the 100% tax will be lifted, but we also need to keep in mind that it was a reaction from Pristina’s side for Belgrade’s international campaign against the recognition of Kosovo, which was an unnecessary move from Belgrade in the first place.
EWB: Should the EU do more to “unfreeze” Belgrade-Pristina dialogue? Do you think that a Special Envoy, like the one appointed by Washington, should also be appointed by Brussels as well?
VCT: A special envoy would be very much appreciated. Especially someone with heavy political weight, who really understands the region, competent and can be accepted by both parties.
EWB: What do you think should be the priorities of the new government apart from the normalization of relations with Serbia?
VCT: Of course, I hope that with a possible new government in Pristina we can get a new start. However, when Brussels focuses so much on the dialogue we just let Belgrade and Pristina pass with every kind of policy they do. We need to address corruption issues, the rule of law, social policies, environmental policies and so on: on a long term of course we need a dialogue, but it is not good when Vučić and Thaçi can get away with everything because Brussels has only questions about the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue.
EWB: EU has been observing the elections in Kosovo since 2009, last year you were the Chief Observer. Do you think that democracy in Kosovo has improved over the years?
VCT: I cannot tell for sure as I was not involved back in 2009. What I can say for sure that there are still many shortcomings, there are a number of malfunctioning institutions; abuse of public resources for the election campaign, the state capture is a real threat in the country and the connections between business and political elites is not ideal either.
EWB: While you gave generally positive assessment of the electoral process in Kosovo in 2019, you wrote that the elections in Serb-majority areas were marred by intimidation. Belgrade-backed Srpska lista won 86% of the vote in four municipalities in the North. Has this subject gone under the radar too quickly in your opinion?
VCT: I believe that this situation is very worrying. We heard a lot of evidence about intimidation of voters but especially the pressure on the candidates was very high. This is not right, it is in the interest of the people to have a real representation of the minorities and their political ideas in the Parliament in Pristina, no matter whether Belgrade likes the Serb representatives or not.
EWB: Following the two important Resolutions adopted by the European Parliament, on the opening of negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania and on the Conference on the Future of Europe, can you tell us what the position of Greens/EFA group is on enlargement and accession of the Western Balkans?
VCT: It was a historic mistake to shut the door for North Macedonia and Albania. Of course, the future for the Western Balkans is inside the EU, but the EU should use its tools better. We need both sticks and carrots for the region. At the moment, we are not using either of them properly. There is no carrot, the “final goal” of EU enlargement is not on the horizon, but if we look at the visa free regime for Kosovo, we see the same thing: they deliver, Kosovo implements the reforms required and then nothing happens because the Council blocks it. But the sticks are also not really in place either: under the Energy Community Treaty Kosovo and the other Western Balkan countries are obliged to improve the air quality and reduce their pollution emissions, but the countries are not complying with their own obligations. And what happens? Nothing, there are no financial or other fines in place. This literally kills thousands of people every year.
We need to help them to integrate in the EU but we need much stricter conditionality, and we should not be satisfied when the governments are setting up facade institutions or adopt rules which then they don’t implement at all.